Thursday, August 11, 2011
Have we locals shunned one of our homegrown talents simply because it's become vogue to hate on TV stars who "aren't real chefs"? Nevermind that Emeril started at the bottom, built his empire from nothing, and was one of the forerunners of the Food Network before pinky rings ruled the world. (For more discussion on this topic, read this.) But I hardly ever hear anyone recommend - much less talk about - any of Emeril's restaurants. And I spend a lot of time talking with people about restaurants.
The rub on NOLA has always been that it's training ground for the next generation of Emeril employees. As the story goes, the multi-level, atriumesque restaurant on St. Louis Street is where new recipes are tested and where cooks and managers make their bones. But every dish and every general manager has to start somewhere, so why not here?
An interesting addition to the regular menu this summer is the "On the Road" daily specials, which feature ingredients from local purveyors. Two weeks ago, the salad course was a tangle arugula scattered with a dice of roasted beets from Covey Rise Farms and nubs of goat cheese from Belle Ecorce in St. Martinville. In the appetizer round, soft, pillow-like gnocchi were matched with a sautee of crawfish tails and woodsy mushrooms that was unfortunately too greasy.
In order to avoid a coronary, I passed up dessert on my last meal here. But I have had success with warm ooey gooey cake (which is chocolate), drunken monkey ice cream, and peanut butter cheesecake. On the other hand, a pecan pie with the shape and consistency of a cylindrical brownie was overcooked and dry around the edges.
Granted, the food at NOLA is neither avant garde nor as well executed as some of the other restaurants in the city at this price point. The waiters may not be brushed up on the wine list (which, by the way, is extensive and has a few hidden values if you look long enough), but each one has always been wearing a smile and keeps my bread plate full with jalapeno cornbread and onion focaccia. Like the waitstaff, the crowd tends to the younger side, which makes for a livelier dining room.
Call me crazy, I actually like the place.
NOLA Restaurant - Par/Birdie
534 St. Louis Street
Dinner 7 Days; Lunch: Thur-Sun